A little-known and unexpected aspect of 20th century literature is the delightful discovery that some well-known authors also wrote one or more children’s books. This unusual literary theme is explored in the exhibition They Also Wrote Children’s Books, on view in the Grolier Club’s second floor gallery from March 4 through May 2, 2020.
Grolier Club member John R. Blaney has been collecting modern first editions for over 40 years by such distinguished authors as Maya Angelou, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ken Kesey, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, and Virginia Woolf. Each of these authors, among others, wrote children’s books and their works are included in the exhibition. In this presentation, Mr. Blaney juxtaposes 39 children’s books that he has paired with the author’s more famous adult novel to help make the point.
Certainly, the viewer will be familiar with some names who have popular books in both categories. James Joyce and Graham Greene wrote a number of popular children’s books. In the exhibit are Joyce’s The Cat and the Devil and Greene’s The Little Horse Bus. The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck and author of The Grapes of Wrath, was so popular that it was made into a movie starring Robert Mitchum and Myrna Loy. B is for Beer, by Tom Robbins, is self-admittedly a children’s book for grown-ups and a grown-up book for children. But there are many well-known authors of best-selling adult books who have also written at least one children’s book, some excellent, some not so good.
Ernest Hemingway’s book The Good Lion is a perfect example of a book that might not be appreciated or even understood by a child. He penned the book for a friend’s son. In this fable, it seems the lion is very unhappy living in Africa—the other lions mock him because he refuses to eat the Hindu traders that pass through his village! He is also teased because he has a pair of wings and so he decides to fly away to Italy. Where? To Venice, where he goes to Harry’s Bar and orders a very dry martini with Gordon’s gin, of course, from Mr. Cipriani. And every child knows that the city symbol of Venice is a winged lion!
Also included in the exhibition are books in both categories by James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Dylan Thomas, and Calvin Trillin, among others. The exhibition offers a peek into the adult writers’ world and their varied approaches when addressing children.
Lunchtime Exhibition Tours:
Curator John R. Blaney will offer free guided public tours of the exhibition on March 11, April 1, and April 15 from 1-2 pm. No reservations required.